Passenger Experience: looking back at the World Aviation Festival

Last week I had the pleasure of chairing the Passenger Experience tracks at the World Aviation Festival in Amsterdam. For anyone who wasn’t able to get there but is interested in the themes that emerged, I’ve made a few notes here.

Spoiler alert: there are no scoops or exclusives, I’m not an investigate journalist. But, for colleagues I work with in aviation around the world these notes are just my take on what I heard. I didn’t see every session and my reflections are, by definition, based on interviewees, panellists and presenters from aviation organisations who chose to be there. That said, the World Aviation Festival is a heavyweight event, always attracting CEOs and other senior leaders of the most significant airlines, airports, industry bodies, tech companies and suppliers from across the globe.

 

In summary…

It’s a complicated picture but casting one eye to the future, things are looking up and the mood in the room was an optimistic one. Routes are being added, the sustainability agenda is very front-of-mind and this Summers’ bookings and load factors, in the northern hemisphere at least, showed there is still a strong desire to travel.

Looking at the more current challenges we’ve seen lately, they are being overcome but a degree of uncertainty remains with some airlines and airports faring better than others. There was no getting away though, from the fact that the last few months have stretched passenger confidence and loyalty, staff morale and stakeholder relationships to near breaking point.

At the event, airline and airport CEOs reflected on how tough it had been for their staff and for customers. Just when it looked like 2022 would be a year of relatively straightforward recovery, we have multiple changes as pandemic rules were relaxed, the Summer’s schedule caps, the surging cost of fuel, the workforce vacancies despite low unemployment and the rising cost of living. Add into the mix limited production of Sustainable Aviation Fuels, the closure of Russian airspace to airlines flying to Asia and a loss of expertise from the sector, it’s easy to see why it’s been an ‘interesting’ period. Investors, Boards and passengers like stability and certainty, both of which have been scarce commodities of late.

Looking ahead though, it is an industry that is very well aware of the responsibilities it has in Society. As far as becoming carbon-positive is concerned there is a definite shift from the reactive (such as offering a passenger to offset their emissions) to the proactive, such as testing electric vehicles for airport operations and test flights with Sustainable Aviation Fuels.

The industry is also acutely aware that its customers have a choice and a voice and both have a big impact on the financials. Those choices now do not just include other airlines but whether to fly at all. Nonetheless, despite still hurting from the last three years’ ups and downs, it is resolutely determined to make flying in the future more enjoyable, more sustainable and more commercially rewarding.

Passengers are people, not PNRs or data points…

A carrier with millions of passengers each year is creating millions of stories that get shared. They sit in the memory, influencing future buying behaviour. The term ‘customer experience’ is over-used but this year more than any before, industry leaders spoke about how important empathy is in securing passengers’ loyalty, advocacy and spend. There was a reflective honesty about the material impact the last few months have had on passengers, employees and by extension, the brand.

As an aside, research by Watermark Consulting shows that investors recognise the role better experiences play. They report that where North American airlines had good customer satisfaction scores, the rate at which their stock price grew by far outstripped the growth rate of airlines with poor customer scores. A direct correlation to underline how important it is to get right.

Indeed, Sheik Aimen bin Ahmed Al Hosni, CEO of Oman Airports, captured the essence of their work as “It’s all about the human touch”. Paul Griffiths, CEO at Dubai Airport, had a similar perspective: “We’re not in the business of airport infrastructure and operations, we’re in the hospitality business”. The challenge then is to organise all the moving parts so they create an intended experience that leads to the right memories being held and the right stories being told.

Whose fault is it anyway?…

While some airlines and airports came through the Summer period relatively unscathed, others didn’t cover themselves in glory. And so, in certain areas, the blame game continues and it’s often very public.

The pandemic forced airlines, airports, partners and regulatory bodies to work closer together than ever before. New relationships were forged and which continue, although this Summer’s challenges prised open old rifts. Lessons have been learned, which includes the absolute importance of collaboration and that the earlier the communication between stakeholders the better, though it shouldn’t take a pandemic to come to that conclusion.

A tough job, a tough crowd…

Obviously, the industry has taken some big hits over the last few years. Its passengers lost confidence. Its employees lost their jobs. Its airlines, airports and ground handlers all lost expertise. Stakeholder relationships lost their impact. Credit ratings lost their ability to hedge fuel costs at a better rate. Working in the aviation sector lost its “wow” factor. The impact on passengers and employees was not glossed over, far from it.

There was a genuine regret over the anxiety, frustration and disruption many travellers had endured. There was an acknowledgment too of the pressure so many front-line and back-office colleagues had been under. No-one wants to wake up in the morning and go to work knowing they are going to have a bad day, a long shift full of frayed tempers and uncertainty.

There’s no denying that many passengers, myself included, had experiences they would not want to repeat even if the cost of the flight was free. But those staff who kept their heads, kept turning up for work, mucking in with jobs outside their usual remit and working hours and who kept smiling throughout should be commended. They created many positive experiences that should be (and are being) celebrated. I sincerely hope that a return to healthier revenue streams doesn’t allow complacency to creep in, to take customers and employees for granted, however unintended that may be.

On the labour market, as in other industries, the challenges remain to find not just enough people but with the right attitude and expertise too. It’s not hard to see why someone earning a basic wage would rather become a barista in a coffee shop than be trained for weeks and put through security checks only to end up out on the ramp at 4am in the driving rain.

Digital when it can be, human when it needs to be…

The people-centric theme continued, even around the focus on all-things digital. Advances in technology are still moving at a fast pace, sometimes too fast for legacy systems and booking engines to keep up. There was no shortage of start-ups demonstrating the next generation of use cases for AI, the Metaverse and biometrics.

For sure, digitisation can make things easier for passengers (genuinely, more ‘seamless and personalised’?) while bringing process costs down and supporting ancillary revenues for the airline. Technology has some exciting implications for providing assistance to passengers who have a disability or who simply find air travel prohibitively challenging and/or overwhelming.

But, the repeated caveat was that it should always recognise there is a human being on the other end of it; technology should be used to make experiences more reliable, easier and they should evoke the emotions that create value, not deploy it just because it’s a shiny new piece of tech.

Lufthansa talked proudly and passionately about being one of the airlines who has carved out an innovation lab as a separate entity to the parent company. It ensures new tech delivers value both to passengers and the airline and routinely has to demonstrate the beneficial ROI.

 

 

 

Certainty with flexibility as standard…

Passengers have always expected – and needed – certainty about their travel arrangements. Should it turn to custard and things go off-schedule, they need empathy, information and support. The pandemic, and latterly social media pictures of queues at border control and baggage mountains, did little to provide any reassurance in that respect.

It is perhaps no surprise that when it comes to describing what experiences should be like, the most often mentioned characteristic was “predictability”. Yes, it’s about getting the basics done well every time but it’s also about managing expectations and being better at providing information, options and control when things don’t go to plan. It sounds easy and obvious yet the one complaint passengers will still have is the lack of information and support when they need it most. We’re human beings, we draw comfort if we feel someone is looking out for us but our frustration builds if we feel we’re being ignored or being treated with contempt. Creating the proverbial ‘one version of the truth’ for all colleagues and customers is getting easier but is still heavily reliant on connecting the gaps between a multiplicity of systems.

So when it comes to travel we like certainty. Somewhat ironically therefore, the other key expectation passengers have more now than ever before is flexibility. Plans change, stuff happens.  To get it right is a demonstration of what we mean by a ‘personalised’ experience – not just suggesting alternative revenue-generating opportunities but making the passenger feel heard, that someone is already trying to help them resolve their issue. It’s about creating an intentional experience every time and if that includes service recovery efforts, there’s research to show that a well-handled problem can create even more loyal passengers than if they had no problem at all.

An urgency around sustainability…

Turning back to the future, it was appropriate the event was held in Amsterdam. NS, the Dutch rail operator sets a good example and runs its trains on electricity generated from the wind farms it invested in. Air Canada for example, is among the airlines putting in orders for electric aircraft. Other airlines are investing in the upstream production of Sustainable Aviation Fuels rather than wait for oil companies to be given government incentives. And there are many other initiatives around such as a recent easyJet trial with Bristol airport where all the ground handling vehicles were electric.

I sensed the narrative on sustainability was changing. In recent years the focus has been to educate passengers and encourage them to make payments to offset their carbon emissions. This year, it was clear the industry wants to get on with it. There is more talk – and, in fairness, action – around integrating with other sustainable transport systems to help get people to and from the airport.

And while government support is needed to stimulate greater production of Sustainable Aviation Fuel, some airlines like United are saying ‘hold my beer’; they are not waiting for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn. Instead, they are shifting the focus from taking plant-a-tree offset contributions to investing directly in the SAF supply chain themselves and in electric flight. British Airways is among the airlines who have created senior leadership roles specifically to push forward on the sustainability agenda.

In the background, airlines will watch passenger behaviour closely – many want easy (that word ‘seamless’ pops up again here) ways to offset their flight’s emissions but they also want confidence that any contribution is going to a meaningful cause. Many of you will know Shashank Nigam, CEO of SimpliFlying – he not only hosts a great podcast series about sustainable aviation (check it out here) but he is setting a credible example by cutting back on his own annual flight count.

 

So…

If my own experiences at Heathrow and Schiphol are anything to go by, it was pretty much as it should be. There are a lot of good people trying really hard to make things better day by day and earn the right to their passengers’ spend, loyalty and advocacy.

The well documented challenges for the aviation industry around the world have not all disappeared. Some old chestnuts that cause niggles and frustration may still rear their head from time to time. But, by improving the collaboration between stakeholders, by seeing the commercial benefits of better experiences and by being proactive on the sustainability agenda, I sensed a genuine urgency from leadership teams to ensure the industry emerges from that as quickly as possible. Not least, for its employees and passengers but, as a result, for the planet, the balance sheet and investors too.

It’s a resilient sector. It’s complex and not perfect but the pride was back as was the determination to forge ahead and make it work.

A final word of huge thanks to Daniel Boyle and the brilliant team at Terrapinn for bringing everyone together and for putting on an engaging and insightful event once more!

 

Jerry Angrave helps airlines, airports and companies in other sectors define and deliver their Customer Experience Strategy. He is a CCXP, a Certified Customer Experience Professional and wrote “The Journey Mapping Playbook”.  Jerry is a member of the British Aviation Group and a member of London Heathrow Airport’s Accessibility Advisory Group.

 

 

Securing buy-in for Customer Experience

For anyone in the early days of their CX career, securing buy-in for Customer Experience from sceptical stakeholders can be daunting.

It needn’t be. Yes, there are always those who don’t get it or don’t want to get it. It’s a fact of life for a CX professional that not everyone will be as passionate as we are about it.

Because the best outcomes start by making time for a conversation

People change roles, they leave, they join, they have their own priorities, their own metrics by which their performance is judged and they’re not going to lend an ear or time willingly without good reason.

It’s made harder without any air cover support from the CEO and Exec team. Compelling data, forensic insight and irrefutable evidence are always going to help tell the right story but that’s easier said than done especially in the early days of a CX movement.

I often say that if you do nothing else in the name of Customer Experience, carry out a piece of journey mapping work and see where it takes you. It will stimulate conversations you’d otherwise not have, it opens colleagues’ eyes to the reality of what being a customer is like and it brings them together in improving things.

But even before we get to journey mapping, we need those stakeholders to give us access to their information and people. We need them onside.

At this point we could go into the depths of psychological profiling and take a professional qualification in stakeholder management. It’s true that we need to recognise the personalities involved and flex our own style to suit but a little empathy goes a long way.  It’s a key ingredient as far as our customers are concerned and it’s no different for colleagues internally and partners.

Short of a three-line whip from the CEO telling them to join your gang, here are just four quick examples of how we might go about winning them over. There will be some effort needed but it will get the momentum going and the rewards will be bountiful.

 

Get them to tell their own stories

Create a connection between what you’re doing and something they can relate to. Ask about the best and worst experiences they’ve had in their own lives. Explore what happened and what their response was.

Not surprisingly they’ll say they’re very likely to go buy again from a company who was on their side and helped them succeed. Conversely, where they had a bad experience they’ll acknowledge they won’t go back and they’ll tell others too.

And where it’s just ‘ok’, they’ll recognise that it wouldn’t take much to investigate what a competitor had to offer.

Each of those responses comes with a commercial impact one way or the other. They’ve just made your argument for you.

Broaden the conversation out and ask if anything like the good or bad experiences – and the ensuing consequences – could happen on our shift.

Asking about their emotions will dig even deeper. They may have denied emotions have anything to do with it but they’re a key driver of behaviours. It’s no coincidence that “How do you feel?” is a favourite go-to question of a journalist or TV presenter.

I recall a B2B Head of Customer Experience becoming frustrated at her Board’s refusal to see why investment in a new contact centre system was necessary. She walked into the next meeting and told the story of a stressed cafe owner customer who was calling in for help between having customers of their own. She started to play the on-hold music with the “Your call is important to us, thank you for waiting” recorded message and left the room.

After a very awkward and long 9 minutes and 25 seconds, the average time taken to answer as she pointed out when she returned, the penny had dropped. Stories and empathy meant she secured her investment.

 

Spend time getting to know them

In the world of internal politics there’s a saying about “Stay close to your enemies”.

We all like to feel we’re heard and acknowledged, so find an excuse to have a chat with them. Listen to the language they use, their challenges and their priorities. Understand their views on how the business makes its money, where its costs are and what the strategic issues are.

What impact do they have directly or indirectly on customers and revenue streams? How close are they to the key movers and shakers in the company and how political are they? Which competitors and organisations outside the sector do they admire?

The more familiar you are with their world the more relevant you can make your positioning. If we know their objections, however irrational, we can work out ways to dismantle the blockers or reframe their arguments.

Show how a focus on customers internally and externally can help them achieve their goals and still be aligned to the overall business aims.

It also gives you a real window into how committed the business is, or not, as the case may be. Many companies will have a mantra or a poster to say they put “customers first”. It won’t take many conversations to see how committed everyone is really and therefore how big a task you are about to undertake.

And, if everyone is rewarded and recognised for the ‘wrong’ things you have plenty of collateral now to explain to the Exec team what is going to be needed to make the vision a reality.

 

Talk to other peers and colleagues as well as senior stakeholders
Admittedly, it’s harder at the moment to have those informal chats around the office, at the drinks machine or onsite to kick around a few issues and ideas. Our online world makes it tricky to bump into people we don’t (but should) know and strike up a conversation.

However, we do still meet and for some it’s more regular than in pre-pandemic times. With an appropriate audience, when the original business of the meeting is done, there’s no harm in asking for a few minutes at the end to ask for their candid feedback about things.

What would they improve? What are customers saying to them? What information, tools or resources do they need? Is it clear what the company wants its customers to say about it and so on. Most online chat functions allow the comments to be collected anonymously too if that helps generate the most telling insight.

However it’s done, talking to colleagues freely and openly is hugely beneficial in understanding what works, what doesn’t and why. Overlay that with customer feedback in any existing survey or from unstructured comments in social media and your influence with senior stakeholders and your case for where the focus should lie just gets stronger.

 

Make the business case, even informally

Be pragmatic and focus on the basics before the “Wow”.  If stakeholders think you just want to spend money on spreading magic fairy dust around the place, click your heels three times and hope for a miracle they’re going to be tough nuts to crack.

If the data doesn’t yet exist to link better experiences with better business, borrow it in principle at least.  There is also no shortage of “ROI of customer experience” data freely available on the internet. And there are plenty of case studies too.

For example, the delivery company who reduced costs by realising it had over-engineered its parcel tracking capability for customers. It was able to cut the number of tracking points without any detrimental impact on customers. Or, the online printer who enjoys wider margins than most. Their customers are happy to pay a premium because the company will fix mistakes on the spot and at their cost, even if it’s the customer’s own mistake.

Better still, try a small change yourself and measure the difference in costs, in employee pride and customer response. Proof of concept is a compelling convincer.

When starting out, it quickly becomes apparent how much of a Customer Experience programme is cultural; a mindset that acknowledges and believes we need our customers more than they need us.

Winning round colleagues isn’t always easy and as time goes by the methods can become more sophisticated. But, for those charged with being the catalyst for a more customer-centric business, engaging stakeholders, especially the sceptical ones bit by bit, will secure their interest, involvement and support.

 

Jerry Angrave is Customer Experience Director at Empathyce, a CX consulting and coaching company. Jerry is a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and author of The Journey Mapping Playbook published by De Gruyter in October 2020.

[email protected]

+44 (0)7917 718072

The real purpose of customer journey mapping

Customer Journey Mapping

This year has challenged the real purpose of many organisations. Some have stayed true to their meaning while others have shown their true colours.

As the dust hopefully settles on the rapid changes everyone has put in place we should, if at all possible, invest in the time to understand what it’s like for a customer. Our underlying vision, purpose or North Star may not have changed but our customers’ priorities and experiences most certainly have.

We always advocate that journey mapping is done and reviewed regularly but the events of 2020 make repeating it necessary, not just an option. Chances are, most existing journey maps were created pre-pandemic and so are already out of date.

How can we build back better if we don’t understand how our customers’ priorities, needs, hopes, fears and expectations have changed?

We therefore have a great opportunity to treat customers as if they have never been to our store or our website. We often make unintentional assumptions that our customers will instinctively know what to do because they’ve been here before. If we assume they are first-timers, we’ll have heaps more empathy and be in a better position to build on what we’ve already done.

However, a perennial issue with journey mapping is that as soon as the workshop finishes, everyone drifts back to their day job. The map gets written up, maybe converted into a neat piece of software, discussed and filed away. A lack of planning beforehand means the momentum comes to a rapid halt. To have so many ideas from the programme of journey mapping can be an uncomfortable reality-check about what to prioritise and what to do next.

There might also be a dawning realisation that this isn’t just a workshop or a project but if we’re going to get it right, it’s a cultural and very strategic way of thinking about our business.

If there are any positives to come out of the pandemic and carry into the new year, one of them is the sense of “We’re all in it together”. Before that feeling dissipates back to those siloed functions where so many managers (because of the lack of a genuine customer-centric culture) find comfort, we should tap into one of journey mapping’s biggest benefits.

It’s not just about the sticky notes on the wall or the Zoom-Mural online workshop. It’s not even always just about the write-up of the journey and list of improvements. Yes, those are clearly important but now more than ever before we should ensure journey mapping stimulates the right conversations across, up and down the business that lead to the right tactical, strategic and cultural actions.

Journey mapping shouldn’t be just about finding ways to fix broken processes or find incremental improvements to the experience. It should give the evidence for asking some tough questions about how committed the organisation and leadership is to the vision.

In the journey mapping sessions people learn about their own colleagues and the job they each do. They learn about their own business and start to piece together the culture from a wider perspective.  It becomes clear that while one part of the business is very much on the “Customer-first” agenda, some colleagues are working to different agendas. They are rewarded for perpetuating the processes that are convenient to the business not the customer.

It’s hard to ignore a colleague who says they come up with ideas but their line manager tells them that’s not what they’re paid to do. It’s hard to ignore the chasm between the “Customer-First Promise” and the reality of the experience they have just articulated.

It’s also hard to ignore the fact that despite saying “We put customers at the heart of what we do”, the Exec team is seemingly happy to get just one set of customer metrics every year. Why would that be? Are they as committed to putting customers first as they say?  What can they do to help make everyone believe in it?

All these issues need to be discussed if a business is to become more customer-centric. Journey mapping is often the catalyst to have those conversations, without it they may simply not happen.

A lot has clearly changed this year. If there’s anything to change about journey mapping, I’d suggest it’s that we try even harder to see things from our customers’ perspectives and make it lead to more of the right conversations. Your boss and customers will thank you for it…

Happy mapping!

____

Jerry Angrave is Customer Experience Director at Empathyce, a CX consulting and coaching company. Jerry is a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and author of The Journey Mapping Playbook published by De Gruyter in October 2020.

[email protected]   +44 (0)7917 718072

Is now an appropriate time to Spring-clean our Customer Experience programme?

People in Customer Experience roles are an energetic, passionate bunch. They are also resilient and have bags of perseverance.

Nonetheless, as lockdown restrictions persist I’ve heard from a couple of Customer Experience teams who are feeling a little lost right now. While grateful to still have a job, they were asking what practical things they could be doing to keep a sense of moving forward when many elements of their usual role were not possible.

Of course the wider context is indeed that friends and colleagues have been laid off, furloughed again or have had to find other roles and new careers. It may, understandably, be the least of your or their priorities right now. Our collective health and well-being is what matters.

But, if you are in a Customer Experience role and your thoughts turn to making the best of a bad situation, I hope these suggestions may help a little. They are based on my own experience and on what I hear others are doing. Please add your thoughts to the LinkedIn post on what else you are focusing on.

Employee experience

There are still tough times all round at the moment. If you haven’t lost your own job, chances are you know someone who has. Sparks of positivity can easily get smothered in a blanket of uncertainty. So more than ever before we must still look out for each other. A quick call, an email or text just to check-in and ask “You ok?” goes a long way.

There’s a large amount of resources on wellbeing at the CIPD website and here too from Lane 4.

Keep spirits up by sharing stories, reliving examples of brilliant (or funny) customer experiences that will give everyone a lift and a smile. It’s easy for colleagues to think everything they do is routine, one cog in a big machine, that nothing exciting ever happens. But keep talking about what made / makes your organisation different and special. Be proud to “Show and Tell” about going that extra mile. Draw out the positives from the current situation such as better ways of working, more creativity and camaraderie.

Beyond that, keep engaging as best you can, ask your team and stakeholders what they need from you, how would they improve communications and what tools, focus or information do they need to deliver the right customer experiences?

Customer engagement (even when they’re not able to be a customer)

There have been some great examples of engagement over the last year even when there might not be any customers at the door.

It’s about providing some degree of value and as long as it’s sincere can be fun, informative and educational.  Your Sales or Marketing team may be under severe pressure to wring out every last revenue opportunity; if that’s the case at least get them to be very transparent and honest rather than a badly-disguised sales pitch. We’ll all remember how we feel we were treated by companies in these times. The same goes for how our customers feel about us.

In the UK, we’ll remember how we felt when we heard the National Trust was opening the doors to its parks and grounds for free in the very early days of the first lockdown. It was necessarily short-lived but it was a hugely well-intended gesture. We appreciate airports, supermarkets and retailers giving us a behind-the-scenes look at their business and running competitions to keep us engaged. They told us what they’re doing and how we could help them help us. We doff our hat to people like Joe Wicks who gave us exercise classes every morning for free.

As they say, what goes around come around and so when we are able to, we’ll support those who showed they were on our side.

But we’ll also remember what we thought of those companies whose leadership teams treated their employees with contempt, dragged their heels on giving refunds and tried to make a quick buck ‘because they could’. Any customer engagement they tried was insincere and completely undermined by their actions elsewhere. Will we be as supportive when we have a choice about whether to give them our money again?

Review VoC and Metrics

Now is not the time for process audits disguised as customer surveys. It never has been. There are many positives to be coming out of this situation especially around humanity, kindness and creativity and if it helps rid us of pointless ‘surveys’ that’s no bad thing either.

For most companies it’s not really practical any more to ask “How satisfied are you with our payment process?” or “You’d recommend us, right?”. Those are important but there are more fundamental worries, fears, hopes and expectations going on inside customers’ heads right now.

We need to listen and listen-up well. How can you adapt your listening posts to ask customers what they need from you? How are you reviewing your understanding and reporting to drive meaningful actions? What worked a few years ago when it was set up may not work as well as it could now.

Does everyone, right around the business, know what customers are thinking, saying and doing – and why?

If you’re not doing so already, lower customer volumes might mean there’s an opportunity to close that loop; let customers know you’ve had their feedback and what you’re doing about it.

Now might be the time to slim down your surveys in order to get more, and a better quality of, response. Do you make your customers wade through 15 questions about income, postcode and their favourite film, before asking them what the experience was like and why, just to satisfy a hunger for data?

How about setting up that customer panel you’ve always wanted?

When things settle down will you carry on measuring the same stuff because it’s easy? Or, can you engineer a switch to measuring the things customers value the most and that are aligned to delivering on the strategy? Why measure advocacy rates to three decimal places when the strategic vision is, for example, all about making things more convenient and friendly? Why not plan to measure and report on how convenient and friendly customers found you? Is it a convenient time to shake off the obsession with the numbers and get the leadership team to focus instead on the qualitative drivers?

And it could be timely to revisit the persistent “What’s the ROI of customer experience?” question. Engage the boffins in the Insight or Finance teams to calculate the correlation between better experiences, higher lifetime values and commercial performance indicators.

Personal development

Keeping match fit in terms of thinking and planning is essential right now. We need to hit the ground running when we come out of this and, perhaps, put ourselves in a prime position to secure a new role.

Look at what other companies are doing to stay engaged with their customers and learn from the good and the mistakes. There are plenty of resources, podcasts and discussion forums such as those from CXM Magazine, MyCustomer, Ian Golding, Jeanne Bliss and the CXPA to name but a few. And of course, CX competency coaching and for the CCXP exam is still available remotely if you’re looking for a professional qualification.

As a CX professionals it is essential we have a commercial leaning in our conversations and actions. So snuggle up to your Financial or Commercial team to see what their challenges are, how the business makes its money and what language they use. Share a virtual cup of coffee with a Programme Manager to see how they set their priorities (and so how you might get the customers’ perspectives into decision-making).

Spend time with the analysts to understand how they turn data into insight so you’re better positioned to pre-empt questions you may get from the Board. And take time out with the Marketing heads to see what plans they have for the brand promise this year and how what they do relates to what you do.

Stakeholder management

In a similar vein to the personal development, get in touch with the leaders of your organisation, colleagues in other functions or external partners you’ve always meant to engage with but always had an excuse not to.

Understand their role and challenges. Help them understand the value of having a focus on Customer Experience. Invite them to be part of your workshops and updates and welcome them into gang of internal CX champions.  Get invited to their meetings to put your (the customer) perspective into their planning.

Nurturing those relationships now will pay dividends in the weeks and months to come when initiating the connections may be harder to do.

Journey Mapping

If you’ve not done any journey mapping before it’s an insightful eye-opener and story-finder. It can still be done remotely and personally I use a combination of Zoom and MURAL.

It may lack the immersive nature of onsite workshops and ethnographic studies but the output will be better than doing nothing. It’s a great way for people across the business and partners to come together and learn more about their own organisation. Make sure that once you’ve looked at things from a customer persona’s perspective you validate it with real customers. You’ll have plenty of ideas so also ensure you also a clarity of direction to prioritise what should be done next.

If you’ve already carried out journey mapping, now is maybe the time to move on from the ‘end-to-end’ journeys. Instead, look at those micro-journeys, key moments or other personas you never thought you’d get round to. Even a small group of three or four of you can be productive. For example, an airport might look at what it’s like for a family with a disabled person to arrive at 3am in the pouring rain. Or, what happens when a wheelchair is lost? A housing association might review the experience of someone who needs a leaky roof repaired. Or a SaaS company may map the journey of its own Customer Success managers’ first day on the job.

CX Maturity Assessment

This takes a real step back from the day-to-day business to contemplate your customer centricity. Seek views from colleagues and those you’ve not met yet in the far-flung corners of the business on whether they know what the CX vision is and whether they’re clear about the role they can play. If there’s not a CX vision then prepare one as part of the CX Strategy – no business sets out to do a bad job but is there clarity on exactly how good you want to be and how committed to that you are? What does that look like on a day-to-day basis? What will you always do and never do?

Is the brand promise to “put customers at the heart of everything we do” something employees believe in based on what they see and hear?

It’s also worth reviewing your internal governance, the beating heart of your CX programme. Are the right people involved and does it have a strong mandate? Is it working effectively and cross-functionally in prioritising and assigning actions? Is it good at finding practical ways of sharing stories throughout the organisation and bringing it all to life internally? What leadership behaviours are present or absent in supporting the customer-led goals?

Future planning

We’re clearly still on a bumpy ride and so it may seem a little challenging to plan for a future when we’ve no idea quite what it will look like.

Nonetheless, there are positive signs on the horizon and history teaches us that we will be back up and running at some point. When that time comes, we don’t want to sit there looking at our competitors with envy and wishing we’d thought of that, wishing we’d made better use of our time now.

So, if we can, make time in the diary to think what we can do in future that is right for us and our customers. How can we act and behave, change and innovate in a way that means our competitors will be looking to us with envy instead? How can we be different and/or better at what we already do for our customers? How have our customers needs and expectations changed?

Apply some Design Thinking principles to solve your customers’ problems. Get creative, get innovative and don’t put any barriers in your way. The checks and “How the heck will we do that?” can come later.

The commercial reality is that the companies who stand the best chance of survival are not just the ones who are financially, strategically and operationally well-managed. They empathise with how they fit into their customers’ lives and give customers no reason to go anywhere else.

There is no shortage of evidence to show the positive, commercial impact of better customer experiences. So having an absolute clarity of direction and commitment to strengthen the customer experience will help protect the business in the near future and beyond.

Sadly, last year we lost Tony Hsieh but the Zappos mindset lives on. It is every bit as important now as it has every been:  “We’re in the people business, we just happen to sell shoes”. It’s a mindset that many more organisations would do well to adopt in times to come.

 

It is not an exhaustive list but I hope it helps is some small way. Please add your thoughts about what else are you doing or plan to do between now and when things return to some kind of normality.

But as I said at the start, I’m very aware that many friends and colleagues are losing their jobs or changes at work mean much of this may be academic. My thoughts go out to you. We will get through it. I know that when we have to dig deep it’s surprising how deep we can go. In the coming days and weeks there will be opportunities to regroup, reset and reboot.

The global community of CX professionals is fantastic at sharing and caring and it’s great to know you are out there. In that spirit, if you simply want to have a chat about what you’re going through or if I can be a sounding board for any questions around customer experience do let me know – message me on LinkedIn or email [email protected]

 

Jerry Angrave is Customer Experience Director at Empathyce, a CX consulting and coaching company. Jerry is a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and author of The Journey Mapping Playbook published by De Gruyter in October 2020.

[email protected]   +44 (0)7917 718072

Customer Journey Mapping – a fun day with sticky notes or a strategic and cultural catalyst?

Done effectively, mapping the customer journey of today’s experience generates an invaluable list of tactical improvements. Unfortunately, it’s also often the limit of what organisations think customer journey mapping can do for them. There is, however, so much more value to be found.

For example, one of the many benefits is that cross-functional teams work together, sometimes for the first time, focused on one thing that unites them – customers.

They learn about their own business and forge new relationships with colleagues. They see ‘obvious’ things they witness or walk past several times every day.

From years of doing this type of work my advice, for what it’s worth, is simple: make time to explore why things are like they are because it surfaces issues that are more strategic and culture in nature.

Those conversations need to be had but are often drowned out in the noise of our daily work.airport passenger experience journey mapping

But armed with evidence of actions, behaviours and (the sometimes unintended) consequences of decision making, we can hold the leadership team to account. We can invite the CEO in to our sessions, look them in the eye and ask if the company is really committed to delivering the vision and values.

Because if it is, the customer journey mapping shines a spotlight on what needs to change if they are serious about it. The priorities for the overall Customer Experience and Employee Engagement programmes then also, crucially, take shape.

Or, when there’s an excuse for everything that won’t get fixed, it’ll become obvious that saying “We put customers first” is just convenient, platitudinous rhetoric.

Journey mapping – don’t let it be just about having a fun day with sticky notes. Done properly, it’s a compelling tool for customer-led change and a stronger business.

If you’ve not done it before, give it a go. See what your customers see. Talk about how it compares to your vision. See where those conversations take you.

If you have done it before, what did you get out of it – and how? It’s always good to share and learn!

 

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Jerry Angrave is Customer & Passenger Experience Director at Empathyce, a CX consulting and coaching company. Jerry works with airports and travel groups as well as in others sectors such as financial services, professional services, utilities and housing associations across Europe and in the Middle East to build strategic and effective Customer Experience programmes. 

Jerry is also a Certified Customer Experience Professional and trains others for the accreditation.

[email protected]    +44 (0) 7917 718 072

 

 

Where to start customer journey mapping

Ok, so we like the idea of it. We’re planning a programme of workshops and we’re thinking about how the outputs will plug into everything else the business is doing. But, just where do we start with customer journey mapping? Which experiences should we focus on first?

After all, there are so many to chose from: do we pick the ones we’re most familiar with? The ones that generate the most complaints? Or the ones that will give us the greatest value? We can’t do them all at the same time so we need to prioritise; in other words, decide “who” is doing “what”.

Start your customer journey mapping

Customer Journey Mapping – a powerful tool but only if it’s strategic, efficient and influential

 

The persona/journey combination you choose will depend on a raft of considerations. That will include your business goals and the maturity of your existing CX culture but taking time now to find clarity will pay huge dividends in the future.

Customer journey mapping must be done in a strategic context, not in a vacuum or rushed. It must be effective in its methodology and its output must drive change. If it fails in any of those things, we’ll have a fun and engaging, but ultimately wasted, time in our workshops. And if that happens, not surprisingly, everyone will drift back to their day-job and next time we mention ‘Customer Experience’, eyes will roll sceptically. We’re also not looking at creating a process map here; rather, it’s about what it’s like to be on the receiving end of your processes.

Get it right though and you can share compelling stories that reshape the corporate mindset and behaviours. Your people learn more about their role in the business, you build a narrative around what it’s like to be a customer and you create that all-important internal momentum and excitement. You’ll prioritise your interventions with greater confidence, know where to take out unnecessary costs and know how to focus on creating innovative improvements.

Customer journey mapping is a powerful tool. But, back to basics. To get it right, we need to be clear about whose story will the journeys tell.

Deciding that can be easier said than done. Think, “Who, what, where, when and why?”. Just by taking the number of customer, employee and stakeholder personas, factored by the reasons they each might interact, the ways they interact and the products or services they’re engaging with and, at best, the permutations can run into the hundreds.

The first journeys you choose will depend on your own circumstances. It may already be clear but if not, here are a few considerations to help focus on what works for you:

You know instinctively – the one(s) you’ve been thinking about as you read this; the proverbial ‘burning platform’. Where is the investment in your brand promise being undermined? What is the issue everyone talks about or worse, the one everyone just dismisses as a barrier “because it’s always been that way”. If you could map only one journey, what would it be?

Which customers do you want more of? – use the insights from your data to identify which customers or partners are most valuable to you. Where does your revenue come from? The most profitable? The most likely to be active advocates? Work backwards from there, understand what they value and what the nature of their journey with you is.

High profile or political issues – it may not be a customer’s most significant journey but there’s an internal imperative for getting this one right. While the platform might not be burning as such, you know beneath the surface it’s smouldering and could ignite at any time. Showing the customers’ perspectives will help nudge everyone into action sooner than later, reducing the associated risk and snuffing out any complacency.

Be guided by your purpose, ambitions and CX Strategy – your values, strategic intent and corporate objectives will direct you to where your priorities are. How does today’s journey compare with what it should, ideally, be? Where are the gaps between today and how good you want to be? For example, if you set out to be “Earth’s most customer-friendly business”, you might look for the journeys where customers have the greatest interaction with your people.

Complaints, customer feedback and operational metrics – an obvious consideration, but your data analytics and qualitative feedback will be a good signal of where to focus effort. However, we know most unhappy customers don’t complain so don’t ignore the journeys where there may be less obvious signs of frustration. You might (should) also consider mapping the journey of when a customer complains or goes to the effort of giving you feedback.

Look beyond typical customers – thankfully we’re not all the same but processes tend to assume we are. For example, people with a disability and their families need to interact with the environment you create; I’ve often seen that if we get things right for people with a physical or cognitive disability we get right for everyone else too. And how do you deal with customers who are apoplectic with rage? They might be spitting blood because of the downward spiral created by your processes’ lack of any empathy rather than because they are simply nasty people who deserve to be ignored.

Not just customers – employees, partners, third-parties and stakeholders will all benefit from having their journey mapped. For example, it might be you can map a Customer Success Manager’s experience of getting a new client up and running. Or map what it’s like to go through your recruitment process to joining on day 1. If your employer brand talks about being a ‘meritocracy’ or simply a funky place to work, mapping out the journeys gives you plenty of evidence and stories to showcase your promise. If you outsource part of your branded experience, how easy is it for them to deliver the experience you want?

Be realistic about the scope – your customers’ journeys rarely begin at their first contact with you and most likely will continue well after their last. This is about how you fit into their lives, not the other way around. Keep it focused on understanding their experiences, not auditing your process maps. Often, today’s journey begins at the end of their last journey with you; a passenger turning up for a flight may still be seething about the lack of information from their delay last month or still has anxiety caused by an emergency landing the previous time. Can you show empathy there?

Still not sure? – get your team together and jot down the typical interactions a customer has with you over the life of your relationship with them. Organise them by themes and in chronological order. Some may last months or years; others may take minutes or seconds. But make a list and begin to pick them off one by one. If you do nothing else in the name of customer experience, do some customer journey mapping and see where it takes you.

 

Although we’re at the start of your journey mapping it’s also worth thinking about what happens afterwards; a journey should have a destination after all. So, some final thoughts:

  • Accept that you will need to build a programme of customer and employee/partner journeys to map over time; it’s not an overnight fix
  • What governance framework will you pour your outputs into? How will you keep the momentum going, communicate internally and avoid the maps gathering dust?
  • When and how will you get the journeys validated by customers? Until then, the maps will still remain an internal view of the world.
  • How will you use journey mapping as a stimulus for innovation using Design Thinking or ethnographic techniques?

Journey mapping is well worth the time and effort. It can be fun and creates ready-made cross functional teams of customer supporters. But, it does need careful planning if it is to support your strategic priorities, if it is going to be effective in its questioning and if it is going to influence what actions you take next.

 

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Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you enjoyed it and found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help people in organisations create better and more commercially-minded customer experiences. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional), a CX consultant and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation.

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions around the wider competencies of CX or are interested in consultancy or training support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718072

When the sales experience falls into, rather than bridges, the gap

Depending on your definition of a customer, their experience starts well before they actually buy anything.

It might be what they’ve heard from others or what they’ve seen in the news. But if the brand comes knocking on their door that first impression is also a critical experience. Many get it right because it’s based on a real empathy with those they are trying to engage with.

However, it’s not always the case. Absent a clear customer experience strategy, what we think do as a business often looks very different when looked at from the customers’ perspectives.

 

For example, if any CEO is wondering why their Sales teams are not getting better results, maybe a quick look at how their initial engagement makes yet-to-be customers feel will give some big clues.

The quotes below are all real examples I’ve had in my inbox just this last week. There are others and I’m sure you’ll have your own ‘favourites’.

They are not trying to sell me something I don’t want. In fact, I could be interested. Just not with them. If I was ever asked for feedback about the Sales experience (a rare thing indeed), it might go along these lines:

  • Putting “Our 9am meeting” in the subject heading doesn’t spur me into replying out of panic.  Sorry to burst your bubble Sales folk, but changing it to “Our 10am meeting” in the follow-up really doesn’t make any difference either.
  • Saying “I’ve tried to reach you” is just lying – technology is quite good these days so I know if you’ve tried to get in touch as often as you claim. And when your colleagues use the same line every week, several times a week, it becomes very transparent.
  • Gasping “I can’t believe you’ve not signed up yet” and “I’d hate for you to miss out” is at best patronising and lacks any sincerity.
  • What’s more, should I be interested a reply to the email will go into a generic mailbox, not to the person who is (presumably) trying to create a relationship. It just shouts even louder about how you really don’t care if I get back in touch or not.

Does somebody seriously believe this type of approach is going to create an experience I want to repeat, share and pay a premium for? If these companies had any genuine interest in what I do and how they might help me achieve success, they’d look at their Sales activity as a meaningful experience not a bullying, volume-led, can’t-really-give-a-**** transaction.

I often come across businesses who fear the Sales team always over-promise because of the way they are rewarded. They then disappear off the face of the planet while everyone else tries to rally-round, clearing up the mess to deliver something close to an unrealistic promise.

On the flip-side, maybe the Sales team is frustrated that everyone else can’t keep up. Maybe they’re just doing what they’ve been told is best. But to create a first impression experience that is confrontational, misleading and deceitful creates no trust, no relationship. No commission.

They say the experience on the outside reflects the culture inside and they’re right. In the middle of a busy day, to be on the receiving end of these type of messages says heaps about what it must be like to work there. No clear strategy, just a numbers game where some very talented people will be wilting under the stress.

Intended or not, what they are saying to me is that it’s clear their focus is just on revenue, not on me as a potential customer. They don’t care if I buy or not, there are plenty more fishes in the sea. Friend and colleague Ian Golding wrote about a similar mindset very recently in this blog.

These companies are not some anonymous outfit in a far-off land that’s acquired an email list; often they are large, global businesses who should know what they are doing. These companies will make some money for sure but that short-term approach breeds complacency and stores up problems for down the line.

If they applied a dose of customer experience thinking they could, however, make a whole lot more money. If only they didn’t push their potential customers away before they’ve even got close.

 

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Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you enjoyed it and found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help people in Customer Experience roles do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional), a CX consultant and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation.

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718072

Why wouldn’t we make customer experiences easy?

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at an event about how to nurture a customer-centric culture. One of the key issues I referenced is that too often we have a gap between the sky-high corporate ambition (such as “to be the world’s best customer experience company”) and the lower-altitude commitment to making that a reality.

We see the consequences of that misalignment regularly. Just in the last couple of days alone I’ve experienced a tale of two cultures. Two very simple questions put to two organisations with two very different results.

I’m sharing them in the hope that one inspires and the other prompts us to ask ourselves, “Could that happen in our business?”.

Firstly, my bank. I had a general enquiry about one of their processes. A client bounced a cheque on me so the bank had automatically represented it. When it was returned the second time I was charged for the pleasure. So, I wanted to know what the bank’s policy was on how many times they would represent the cheque (and therefore how much I’d be charged too).

Their brand proposition proudly talks about wanting “to help businesses thrive…to help people realise their ambitions”. But they’re one of the world’s biggest players anyway and as I had a simple question my expectations of a quick response were high.

My problem though was not that I didn’t get an answer. More, it was ridiculously difficult to ask it in the first place.

My first attempt started after 10pm and the helpline was closed. Fair enough, though people managing their own businesses necessarily tend do the admin at either end of the day. I resorted to the FAQs on the website but after much trawling there was nothing relevant . The LiveChat was not live either.

So next morning I called back. The IVR route made me enter my branch sort code number. Then I needed to type in my account number followed by my date of birth and two digits from my security PIN. For some reason I then had my balance read out automatically. Twice. Topped off with a declaration about the difference between the balance and cleared funds.

I then had to navigate three further levels of IVR options before listening to the on-hold music for five minutes. Then someone picked up the call.

At that point they very helpful. The question was answered inside a minute. Added to the time I’d spent the night before though, the effort to get that point was disproportionate. I only hope they measure customer effort rather than, or aswell as, overall advocacy otherwise things won’t change.

Compare that with my second experience the same day. Next week I’m chairing sessions on passenger experience at the Rail Festival in Amsterdam. I was wondering how I get from Schiphol airport to the city centre by train. So, when a reminder about my flight popped up on my KLM app with a very clear ‘Contact Us’ button I sent them a quick question via Twitter (I could choose which messaging platform to use).

I sat back and carried on with my evening. Twelve minutes later, I had a response from the airline pointing me to where the rail ticket office is inside the airport. Sorted, with very little input from me.

But more than that, after only nine minutes, a delightful lady who runs a company helping law firms in Holland intervened and forwarded my request directly to the rail company, NS. They too then quickly confirmed what I needed to do.

Not only were the airline and rail company right on top of things, one of their own customers was willing to help another. I was very grateful but also intrigued about why she’d done that. She told me the motivation was that she is very proud of the Netherlands and wanted to help anyone who was visiting her country. Her intent was not so much to help the airline or rail company directly but subconsciously had confidence the issue would be resolved quickly.

And indeed, I’d had a swift response. But beyond her wider motive I thought about rail passengers in this country. If we happened to see a message from someone coming to the UK and they’d asked the airline about rail travel here, would we put our own reputation on the line by trying to help out? Would we be so confident that the rail operator would pick up the baton so quickly and easily? Hmmm.

 

They say the experience on the outside reflects the culture on the inside. If it feels like wading through treacle to get answers to simple questions then that business is more than likely carrying excess costs. If it’s easy for customers there’s less processing and support needed from the business. Unnecessary complexity also does nothing to support the wider brand promise; quite the opposite. If the reality of the experience is working against the expectation so much of the Marketing budget is wasted.

It’s easy to set sky-high ambitions but as CX professionals we need ensure there are no gaps between them and what it’s really like to be a customer. As KLM and NS have shown, if it can be easy, why wouldn’t it be? We already know that better experiences mean customers will come back more often, spend more and tell others to do the same. And if that then makes customers feel willing and able to help others customers too, that’s got to be a win for everyone, surely.

(Oh, if you’re interested, in the UK a bank will usually represent a cheque four times. Some though apparently will keep representing many more times, conveniently charging you each time. Be warned!).

———————

Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help people in Customer Experience roles do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation. I founded Empathyce after a long career in CX and Marketing roles and am now a consultant and trainer. 

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718072

 

 

Lessons in how to embed Customer Experience

At the recent CXPA networking event in London hosted by Pen CX, the world of the CX professional was thrown into the spotlight. I wanted to share thoughts from two of the presenters, who reminded us of some of the practical yet vitally important things we need to do to bring about the right change.

First, Ali Lawrie, Head of Customer Experience at Akzo Nobel, owners of the Dulux paint brand among others. Ali talked about the challenges of bringing the customer agenda to the fore in a B2B organisation which, understandably, has had a keen focus on technical product development and the sales supply chain.

A lesson she’d learned early on was to not underestimate the time it takes to win stakeholders round where they have their own priorities. Perseverance and resilience are essential qualities of the CX practitioner.

It’s time well-spent though and an investment that pays dividends. Getting the attention was also helped in no small part by demonstrating the reality of today’s experience using customer verbatims.

To see a metric that says customers are waiting three minutes for a call to be answered may not be a catalyst for instant transformation.  But hearing the direct impact on the customer, who might be an architect about to see a key client or a hospital property manager reaching out for some quick advice, expressed in their words with the emotion that goes with it, is infinitely more powerful.

Furthermore, it can show how a company’s brand and advertising is potentially being wasted because the experience does not deliver the promise of (a variant of) “We put customers first”. It’s a valuable and necessary conversation to have with the Marketing team.

Journey mapping provided many of the insights for Ali and those exercises also created six key stages of the experience, each now represented by an icon. Bringing to life the customer experience is at the heart of an effective CX programme and so the more visible it is the better. Sharing the icons and explaining the stages now references any activity to a specific part of the journey, has helped engage and involve colleagues and makes communications clearer.

Empathyce

Your CX momentum will take off, eventually

Creating a stronger business by using Customer Experience thinking will not happen without complete engagement right across the business. To engage not just those who are customer-facing but also those who are back-office or in management roles is a big stretch for many fledgling CX teams,.

So Ali’s advice is to spread the message and create movement from within through the extended use of CX champions – finding people from all parts of the business who take an interest, want to be part of the movement and see it as a good development opportunity. They will be the eyes and ears of CX inside and across the proverbial silos.

Mike Bellis of Pen CX and formerly of Pfizer, then reflected on how he changed his approach to win people round. “I started by highlighting issues that were affecting customers and trying to get them fixed, but this was seen as creating new problems within the organisation rather than trying to fix those which were perceived to be there already”.

As this approach wasn’t developing very much engagement, Mike quickly changed tack. The new approach was to understand internal stakeholders’ issues first and then show how a focus on Customer Experience could help overcome them. Before long he was everyone’s best friend. The momentum grew as colleagues from around the globe came knocking on his door for his methodologies and thinking.

 

Anyone who works as a CX professional will know how hard these things are to do. It’s therefore reassuring to hear that with persistence they can still make a difference.

As Mike Bellis summarised, “In principle, Customer Experience is simple. It doesn’t mean it’s easy though”.

Thanks to Ali and Mike, also to Neil Sharp of Pen CX for organising and hosting the event.

If you’ve any thoughts on what can be done at a practical level to help a business become more customer-centric, please share them!

———————

Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help people in Customer Experience roles do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation. I founded Empathyce after a long career in CX and Marketing roles and am now a consultant and trainer. I give CX professionals the skills, tools and confidence to be the ones to drive their Customer Experience efforts forward.

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718072

 

Does the PRM label restrict airports’ thinking?

Does the PRM acronym need an upgrade to ensure any disabled passenger has an empathetic experience?

passenger experience prm disability

 

(This post first appeared as a guest blog for International Airport Review in March 2017).

What’s in a name? A lot, it turns out.

There is, for example, no shortage of airports who create a brand based on the city they want to be associated with rather than where they are.

But stretching the thinking in the same way, this may be exactly what airport operators need to do when helping PRMs – passengers with reduced mobility.

Big improvements have already been made but as welcome as that is, it’s only addressing a small part of the wider issue. It risks ignoring those who need special assistance just as much and sometimes more; those who have issues that are less about the pure mechanics of getting from A to B and more about their understanding of the world with which they interact.

In business cultures that focus more on processing efficiencies than people, having PRM rules imposed means activity is often restricted to a tick-box exercise once the ramps are in place and more wheelchairs are available.

Yet the World Health Organisation says one in four people have difficulty in mentally processing information. 70 million people have autism. And, according to Disability Sport (UK), while around 11 million people in the UK have a disability, less than 8% of them require the use of a wheelchair.

To overcome the challenges faced, people with an intellectual or learning disability will usually travel with someone else; a family member or carer. Consequently, they are perceived to be relatively mobile and because their real disability is often invisible that sharp PRM focus on ‘mobility’ lands elsewhere.

People with an intellectual or learning disability will usually travel with someone else; a family member or carer…

Operators seeking to find more revenue from airlines and passengers know the importance of creating experiences that keep people coming back and telling others to do the same.

Upgrade the acronym

If an airport is serious about having better passenger experiences, then upgrading the acronym from PRM to PDN (People with Different Needs) or PID (People who Interact Differently) might just be the nudge that is needed.

During internal meetings, the strategy writers, operations coordinators and project managers will be in a better position to take a wider view of who their customers are. It will help them acknowledge that while this segment is given a three-letter acronym, that only describes their limitations in an airport; they remain a whole person with a real life.

Let’s be clear, there’s been some great work done to help PRMs. For people who find it difficult to navigate an airport’s infrastructure there is no doubt things are getting easier.

Collaborations between airlines and airports have reduced stress and anxiety. For those who need them, to see calming dogs, dementia friends and special-assistance wristbands is a huge help. To be on the receiving end of genuine staff empathy and patience when one of the family’s party is having an ‘episode’ or has no sense of how queues work is incredibly comforting.

We need to go further

Last August the CAA published a study on the progress that UK airports are making. It reported good levels of passenger satisfaction among those with a disability or reduced mobility. While some airports were applauded, the CAA pointed out there is still more to be done.

Too frequently we hear still about the poor treatment of passengers. Sometimes it’s unintentional. Often it’s because ‘that’s what the rules say’. Always though, there will be a personal impact for the traveller and therefore, ultimately, a commercial impact for the airport.

Only the airport themselves will know why it happens. Possibly, because PRM is treated as one of a raft of projects, rather than it be part of the culture. Employees are told how to make it happen rather than let it come from within and those signing off the business case are obsessing about the metrics, not the experience.

There are two issues at stake here

One is that making life easier for passengers, especially those with any kind of disability, is simply the right thing to do. And it’s consistent with many airport’s brand promises – genuine or not – to ‘put passengers at the heart of what they do’.

The second is a commercial issue. Whether they have a physical challenge or a learning disability, these passengers have wallets and their numbers are increasing.

Airports are under immense pressure to perform and today there are few stories written or marketing brochures printed that don’t refer in some way to the impact on passenger experience.  We also know that as in most markets, our expectations as consumers are outpacing the rate at which better experiences are delivered.  They have a voice and a choice and are not afraid to exercise either.

In Forrester’s survey of the S&P 500 with Watermark Consulting, they found that the stock market value of companies who had a customer experience culture grew during the 8 years between 2007 and 2014 by 107%. In contrast, those who didn’t grew by just 28% in that same time.

Meanwhile, AeroMexico calculated that a one-point change up or down in their Net Promoter Score had a $6m impact on the bottom line.

For airlines and airports better experiences mean more PRMs are feeling confident to fly. In the UK alone, the purple pound – the spending power of people with a disability – is estimated to be worth £212bn. The Papworth Trust carried out its own research that found two-thirds of disabled passengers would travel more often if it was easier to do so.

So, what does ‘easier’ mean?

I recently carried out a study of passengers’ unstructured feedback where they share their thoughts on social media and review sites about what it’s like going through an airport. At the top of the list of things that made them rate an airport highly was the environment; they want it to be quick, easy, friendly, clean and calm.

The absence of the same attributes was among the biggest reasons why they would advise others to use a different airport.

Those characteristics are the same for everyone; a family going on holiday, someone on business or a carer with a passenger who has a learning difficulty. So, if we extend the thinking to understand people with a disability, we’ll not only provide better experiences for them but everyone else too.

Autism spectrum disorders alone affect about 70 million people worldwide. Their symptoms include feeling bewildered at any social interaction, difficulties in communicating how they are feeling or why, and non-typical behaviours. To put them through a standardised process simply makes life harder.

Many of those with, or who care someone who has, a disability will be running on empty emotionally. They may not have had a good night’s sleep for years. They may have been in and out of hospital for countless operations.  They may have lost friends who had undiagnosed problems. They may spend their day helping others go to the toilet. Or they may spend their time apologising and feeling judged.

People with learning difficulties have and need very different experiences. They often feel isolated and will have little independence. A flight for a holiday may be as emotional for them as a wedding or a funeral to the rest of us so creating the right conditions is essential.

What they need is an easy experience with no complications. What they don’t need is for the airport to be the straw that breaks their back with inflexible policies, where common sense is not allowed to prevail and where rude employees or unhelpful environments make it worse.

The World Health Organisation says “Disability arises from the interaction between people with a health condition and their environment”.  Airports, with their partners and stakeholders, control the conditions. It is therefore within their gift to make the experience one that people want to repeat and to become advocates of.

Disability arises from the interaction between people with a health condition and their environment…

Their emotions and sensory stimuli are amplified. Take, as a simple example, hand-dryers in many airport toilet facilities. They howl into life at around 90dB, the same as a chain saw. And they are unpredictable, easily triggered simply by someone walking past.

They’re functional, probably simple to maintain and (the noisier ones) are less expensive, but at what cost?

They tick lots of operational boxes but I’ve experienced first-hand the devastating affect it can have on someone who finds such sudden outbursts like a near-death experience. From being happy to apoplectic in a second, my son (who has Fragile X) won’t hear words like “calm down”. He has an unbreakable cycle to go though. He’ll make even more noise but he will come out the other side. When he does he’ll be very apologetic and will want to know that people are there for him.

From an airport’s commercial perspective, that type of incident leads to less-than-ideal experience for other passengers, demands on employees, delayed flights and a family who won’t use that airport again.

It’s also worth noting that passengers are very aware of how their fellow travellers are being treated. Many of them will know someone with a disability and will be full of empathy. They too will make a choice next time and tell others.

Being truly empathetic to them can take us way beyond the traditional reach of the PRM definition. It creates a clear window into the life of someone with a learning disability and the role an airport plays in it. Here are just a few genuine comments to illustrate the point.

When we checked in and asked if we can sit near the front we were told “your child has autism so he can’t sit near the business area.

The airline asks if we need special assistance so why, for heaven’s sake, don’t they tell the airport to expect us?

She needs three of us to go with her. We do everything for her. Some airports and airlines are really helpful and keep us together but now we know the ones to avoid.

He lives in the moment. You can’t say: “You need to go and see Anne over there.  She’s wearing a blue jacket.” To him, the two sentences are about two completely different people. It’ll be confusing and just create more anxiety.

Their best experience is therefore one that simply works and has no hassle in it.  There doesn’t need to be any “Wow!” or “surprising and delighting”. It just needs to be competent at getting the basics right every time.

Outside the aviation sector there are many organisations responding to the specific needs of people with mental health challenges. Cineworld and ToysRUs for example have well-established autism-friendly experiences where sensory stimuli are kept to a minimum and expectations are well-managed.

It’s about people, not processes

At last year’s Passenger Terminal Conference in Cologne, Craig Leiner, Transportation Coordinator at Natick Community Services Department said about planning “When we get it right we make people’s lives better; when we get it wrong we make their lives harder”.

And Lord Blunkett, chair of Easyjet’s Special Assistance Advisory Group, added sagely: “Treating people with decency is a commercial win”.

Those leading and managing airport operations have enough on their plate without adding to the workload. We don’t need to create a whole new industry. Rather, we should build on the momentum we have with PRMs and ensure it embraces those who see and interact with the world in different ways.

There may be better acronyms than PID (People who Interact Differently) but the point is that changing from PRM to something like PID is a small mindset shift that will bring big lasting business advantages.

All types of passengers will benefit and it’ll be a prouder place to work. Not least, airports and their partners will see more passengers, lower costs and stronger revenue.

 

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Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help Customer Experience people do what they need to do. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation. I founded Empathyce after a long career in CX and Marketing roles and am now a consultant and trainer. I give CX professionals the skills, tools and confidence to be the ones to drive their Customer Experience efforts forward.

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions or are interested in training or consultancy support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718 072